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Flu still widespread, with vaccine only 36 percent effective

One of the nastiest flu seasons in recent years remains widespread, with the vaccine only 36 percent effective and several more weeks of peak activity expected.

One of the key measures to track is laboratory-confirmed flu cases at hospitals and outpatient centers. How are we doing? In Western New York, there were 92 laboratory confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the population at the end of last week, compared to 65.5 on Jan. 27 and 26 on Jan. 6. Flu activity is particularly strong in Central New York, where officials reported 169.4 cases per 100,000 population last week.

Some of the other highlights from the New York State Health Department and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly influenza reports:

Vaccine effectiveness: This flu season, the estimates of vaccine effectiveness against influenza A and influenza B virus strains in circulation was 36 percent overall, but 51 percent for children ages 6 to 8 months, according to the CDC. This year’s vaccine is about 25 percent effective against the H3N2 strain of flu that is causing most of the illnesses and deaths. The CDC measures vaccine effectiveness by looking at laboratory-confirmed flu illness that results in a doctor’s visit or hospitalization.

Pediatric deaths: Officials reported two influenza-associated deaths of children downstate in the week ending Feb. 10. That brings the number of pediatric deaths to five statewide in this flu season. There were eight flu-related deaths in children in New York State in the 2016-2017 flu season. Nationwide, the CDC reported that 84 children had died from the flu since October. Most of the children did not receive flu vaccine. Individual reports of adult flu-related deaths are not reported. However, in recent years, CDC estimates that flu-related deaths ranged from a low of 12,000 in 2011-2012 to a high of 56,000 in 2012-2013.

A sign the peak may be near: Statewide, the total number of laboratory confirmed flu cases increased 7 percent last week, but the number of new cases appeared to be slowing down from previous weeks. Also, reports of patients hospitalized with the flu declined last week for the first time this season.

Vaccination still recommended: Even though it's late in the season, the CDC encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu. In addition to very young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with serious underlying medical conditions are most at risk of serious complications from the flu, including pneumonia and death. Vaccines supplies, particularly at pharmacies, are good, according to health officials.

Busting a myth: Public health officials continued to note that flu vaccines given with a needle are made with inactivated virus or by methods that do not require using the virus. That means the vaccine can't cause influenza, although it's possible to get the flu after immunization in the period before the vaccine takes effect.

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